Showing posts with label Spooky. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spooky. Show all posts


Hinter Lands

You guys! 


You see, I secretly left out the time bomb in that post about winter storms. I wrote about how there was an ice storm and a blizzard and I went to see Monsters and blah blah blah. All about where my life was two years ago, a little love letter to living in Uptown. The fact is, before the movie started there was a trailer that was so straight up bonkers that it stayed with me all this time, a time capsule of crazy that finally cracked open this past weekend. A Xmas extravaganza of gonzo proportions. 

Rare Exports. 
You know what? I'll save the gushing preamble and just link right to the trailer here

Look at it. Is it any wonder, with such a dark, mythological take on Santa that it would stick in my head so firmly over the last two years? Especially when you consider one of my favorite traditions is reading Last Christmas just for the spectacle? Amazing. It is so over the top and audacious there's no way it could be decent, right? Wrong. It is awesome. 
There is so much going on in this movie that could have quickly driven it off the rails. All of these potential problems end up working in its favor, though. Set in remote parts of Finland? Could be dreary and boring, instead becomes beautifully isolated and an authentic and logical setting. Mostly subtitled? Never a problem for me and I liked knowing the cast was using their native language. Grim and gory take on the essence of innocence and hope? It becomes an ominous, delightfully macabre story about our forgotten myths and shared history. Oh, and Santa being a malevolent force of doom? All. Kinds. of Awesome. 
This movie is so unique and fresh and absolutely appropriate for this holiday season. If you've had your fill of the usual holiday fare, look no further. If you want to scare yourself into your childhood sense of wonder at a world you don't understand, look no further. For real. It's not even an out and out horror movie. It's one of those bizarre hybrid movies that's somehow bigger than its parts. The soundtrack is also worth noting, because it has the excellent little motif that mixes music box levity with deep, foreboding bass. 
Do yourself a favor this Xmas. Check out Rare Exports. It stuck with me as a "oh yeah, I need to see that" kind of memory for two whole years and it totally paid off. Happy hunting.


Bad Mojo

How could I forget?

I struggled a bit with what to post on Halloween proper. I was afraid the magic was fading a bit. It's been hectic around here, there have been all sorts of obligations and things at the office and early colds/bugs...I wasn't really feeling it.

I know, I know.

Comparing the volumes of words last year to the scant posts this year, it's clear my head wasn't in the Halloween game. It felt like the intangible special air of the season hadn't appeared. But then I got home to my better half's chili and the giant bowl of candy to hand out. Suddenly it clicked. It was last minute but it was there. Spooky tunes on Pandora. Treehouse of Horror. Trick or treaters are coming for the first time! We've waited so long for this (and no more huge lines at bars and paying a cover and getting a cab and all the other adult Halloween misery)!

So I got jazzed here at the last minute.

To celebrate, I'll impart something I had forgotten (thankfully). In a recent post I mentioned how I don't believe in this mumbo jumbo about ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Supporting my steadfast adherence to science is the fact that nothing...paranormal...has ever happened to me.

Until I was house shopping.

My better half and I had looked at probably 30 houses and were growing frustrated. One day while out with our realtors we stopped at a bit of a fixer upper in the west metro area. Decent, but not great neighborhood. The house was in fine shape from the outside. Inside, though, it I don't know. It's still hard to put a finger on what did it. It had this funny salmon color all over, and I think it had been foreclosed on? Or maybe the owners were renting it out and the people that were there weren't taking care of it. Whatever it was, they weren't taking proper care of it on the inside and everything was kind of slap-dash and in disarray. Seemed like a guy and a little girl, from the toys strewn about. 

As soon as the door had closed behind us something was happening to me. As far as I can recall, no one else felt it. I sure did, though. It felt terrible, like I was drowning, or there was a gas leak and only I was getting the fumes. My head was heavy and throbbing. My eyes hurt and I wanted to lie down and die. My chest felt like it was being crushed. I took maybe five minutes to get my bearings in the house, all the while my better half is imperviously seeing promise. She and the realtors are walking around admiring the kitchen and I practically vomit the phrase "I'm leaving. Now. We're not interested." They were totally perplexed by my sudden change in demeanor, but since I had never exhibited any kind of displeasure on this level, they shrugged and went with it. 

By the time we were in the car and driving away, my head cleared out and I explained what happened. They were a bit surprised but they accepted my reaction with aplomb. My better half was a bit bummed to miss out on what she saw as a great kitchen, even if I felt so horrible. We moved on, they were all cool with it. I'm sure the realtors had seen weirder and worse in their time.

It was so strange. I've never had such a bad feeling, this sense of malevolence or foreboding space. It was as if the house had the strongest bad vibes I'd ever felt. I don't know what to chalk it up to. My religious childhood and paranormal pop culture obsession wants to knee-jerk to call it spirits. My logical mind wants to call it undetected electromagnetics and low-level sub-audible humming. Hey, maybe it was low blood sugar and high stress. I just know there was no way I was going to spend more than five minutes there, let alone buy the place. It gives me the creeps to think about it, so I was glad to put it behind me. Dredging it out for you guys is kind of therapeutic. 

So, there it is. My only spooky deal. Not fun. Like I said, I don't beleive in any of it, which when considering how it felt, is just fine with me. I'll stick with cartoon skeletons and candy and the Monster Mash. Werewolf Barmitzvahs and all that. No real haunts, just real thrills. 


Inn & Out

Oh, right.


It's been October all month, hasn't it? It has. Where have I been? I don't know. Stuff gets busy, I guess. I was looking back at last October's posts and I was not only reliable but down right prolific. It was super fun, if I recall, but also super busy. I don't know how I got all that done. Must not have owned a house at the time. Yeah, that's gotta be it. I'm out raking and running when I have daylight now, instead of bumming around the city. This time last year I was looking eagerly, if optimistically to the idea of eventually having trick or treaters. That is a thing that looks to definitely be happening this year. I am, in a word, jazzed. Like, drum solo jazzed. 

But I digress.

I was looking back on what I was posting and what I wanted to get to and realized what I wanted to put out there this year. I don't have some crazy gimmick or overlooked gem from the past. Nah, I'm switching it up this time around. What I'm saying is there is a great flick that came out this last year that deserves all the love it can get. Something modern? How novel! So take a look at The Innkeepers...
Released in 2011, The Innkeepers is a low budget slow-burn of a creeper from up and coming horror director Ti West. Starring Sara Paxton and Pat Healy as titular innkeepers Claire and Luke, the flick shows a surprising amount of heart for a modern day haunting tale. Claire and Luke are the last remaining employees in a sleepy little inn that's set to close in a few days. While the last guest check in, they decide to step up their paranormal investigations of what they are sure must be a haunted locale. Needless to say, something goes bump in the night. 
Having only heard good things about this movie on Doug Loves Movies (from host Doug Benson and multiple guests), I have to say I really enjoyed it. It has more heart and character than so many movies that are touted as horror or suspense tales these days. It doesn't wallop you with gore or unrelenting terror. It's a slow, suspenseful build that will often have you wondering if anything is going to happen. Oddly enough, that comes to be a positive rather than a boring flaw. When things come to a boil they really jolt you. The quiet moments allow for personality to foster. You get a better sense of identity from the characters. In a way the visual aesthetic combined with the jaunty soundtrack brought to mind fond recollections of Ghostbusters. I'm sure it was intentional but it was a great way to call back on something that's rarely touched upon by so many imitators.
Halloween is almost here. Don't get stupid with gore, get scared with a modest charmer. It's really a strong movie that comes in a small package. Think outside the box and check out this under-the-radar thriller. It's still on Netflix, to boot. Do it. Do it do it do it.


Irrational Fear

I'm an idiot. 

Not all of the time. 

Just some of the time. 

You see, last night before I went to sleep I was reading an article on the game Slender. It's a free-to-download PC game that has the player running around a park at night collecting pages of a book, avoiding the titular Slender Man, a meme that plays on our fear of the unknown and undefined. You look at him too much and you die. That's it. Sounds simple, right? It sure does, but according to almost all who have played it, it is supposed to be pants-fillingly terrifying. Something about the premise, setting and execution have made a simple yet disturbing game. Needless to say I'm stoked for it. It's sitting on my desktop but I'm waiting for Halloween. Or at the least, the month of October. My terror induced diarrhea must be timely. 

That's not why I'm an idiot, though. At least, not this time. 

No, the thing was that in the article was a link to this video from a series of YouTube clips about...something. I don't even know, really. However, that short clip was so effective in its use of framing timing that I was unnerved to the point of continuing anxiety. I had to put it out of my mind to sleep last night, and all during my run (in the dark, natch) this morning I would get these bolts of memory that would jar me and I honestly found myself looking back over my shoulder know? 

Look, I'm no scientist. But! I majored in Logic and Philosophy in college. I spend most of my brain power working out the rules and systems of the world around me. When given a game to play, I love looking for ways to break the system, to test the boundaries of a pre-established world. That we, as a species, have worked out the cosmos from the multiverse down to subatomic particles astounds me and makes me marvel at being alive. But I don't believe in the supernatural. I know a few people reading this will be disheartened to hear that as much as I love Mysterious Universe, I don't think of it as a journalistic endeavor - it's more a source of entertainment. Much of my ability to deal with the horrors of the world and the cruelty of fate stems from the cold, hard logic of science and how cause and effect operate, coupled with a good ol' dose of Chaos Theory. There's a lot of math I don't understand, but even cats can use an iPad even if they'll never build one. 
The point is - I know this stuff is pure, Grade A baloney. Noises in my house are the house settling or creaking in the wind or my cat being a little unhinged. No one chases me during my run except my thoughts and the local rabbits. Despite knowing these things...I still get the creeps. The willies. That little tingle up the spine that lingers from an evolutionary holdover in which was originally supposed to warn of large animals watching from the bushes. 
I'm not saying there's not danger in the world. Of course there is. Cancer. Car accidents. Random acts of violence. Super volcanoes. But I only control my own self and how I react to things. So why can't I control getting creeped out by stuff like that video late at night? Why do I love to torture myself, especially non-stop in October? Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment. Or maybe I like to pretend there's more out there. See how the other half lives. Who knows. 

I'll just glance over my shoulder every now and then to be sure. 


Donor Card

I donated some blood the other day. 

Not a lot. Just a pint. 

I know there's a certain squick factor here, but I rather enjoy the whole bizarre process. Being fortunate enough not to have a fear of needles, that's reason enough. I also happen to be the picture of health - no diseases, allergies, pre-existing conditions of any sort. I've never even broken a bone. So the least I can do is make good use of a healthy specimen and donate some blood to someone who might need it. Does it alleviate the guilt of having all the advantages I do and not doing much to make the world a better place? No. But, it does a small bit of good. Someone needs it. I guess it goes bad after a while, so fresh, healthy stock is needed. So why not?
It's a weird process. The more you think about it, the more unusual it becomes. There's this viscous goo inside us that we donate, and you feel really dopey and light headed afterword. Any other time you lose blood like that, you're probably terribly injured and at least a little traumatized. This time, you're okay, just have a cookie and relax for a minute. People can joke about oil and being a pint low and all that, but really - that there's this operating substance in us that can be siphoned out is so bizarre. It makes you reexamine your sense of self - there you are, draining out of your arm into a bag. It is both marvelous and humbling. We are a sum of parts, yet so much more.
Additionally, there are health benefits to donating as well. Apparently most Americans (possibly others, but I can only speak for my country of carnivores) have diets that are much too high in iron. These iron particulates, when unabsorbed in the bloodstream, behave as free-radicals, which are rarely a good thing. There is a saturation point at which our bodies fail to process all of the excess iron and it can build up to a detrimental level. Donating blood both removes some of this excess as well as allows the body to freely generate and replace the missing pint with its own fresh supply, thus redistributing the remaining amounts. 

So I probably sound like as ghoul, dissecting all this. Eh. It's a fascinating thing, one that more people should do if they're up for it. Gives me a break in the day and makes me appreciate the wonder of a functioning, healthy body. Good gravy, how's that for a glimpse under the hood, eh? #NoVamps #Twitterjoke 


Cadaver Caper

I really should be saving this for next Halloween.

You know what? I can't - this story is too good to share and I don't ever want to forget it.

My better half had a coworker who, contrary to her bright, life-affirming disposition, had a previous career as a mortician's assistant. While this, in and of itself, is worthy of ample amounts of dissection (dear goodness, no pun intended) over a happy hour, the seeming disparity between her persona and the occupation are not the heart of the matter. No, an event on the job, a particular incident, is what prompted me to jump to the keyboard. This was simply too amazing and horrifying to let slip into the ether. I feel compelled to share it with the world.


A brief word on the nature of our inevitable end. 

We're all doomed. Death is one of the few things in the world we will all experience. There is both a universality and taboo surrounding it. We are fascinated by it, yet speak of it in hushed tones. Our lives are seemingly spent in denial of it, yet only when we embrace it do we live to the fullest extent. We are meat containing something special. When that light behind the eyes goes out, all that remains is a vessel, a shell. What we leave behind is not us, but a reminder that we are something more than bags of mostly water. There is, to say the absolute minimum, a mental phenomenon unlike anything else we've seen in the universe. It is to be treasured and valued. Having been present at the moment a loved one has passed, there is certainly clear distinction between "they are with us" and "they are gone". It is simple, yet wholly distinct. 


What I am about to impart is meant in no way to desecrate that remarkable, ephemeral essence. Instead, it elucidates the mechanical nature of our existence that we mistakenly assume to be the beginning and end of who and what we are. But enough preamble. On to it.

This happy little pixie of a woman was a mortician's assistant. She assisted, among other duties, in the preparation for burial through the embalming process. This process involves draining the body of fluids and replacing them with substances that preserve our remains. At some point in the process a high powered suction device is used to drain the body cavity. It would seem that one must always be mindful of where you place such an item when taking a break, because this happy-go-lucky woman made the unfortunate mistake of dropping the suction device on the open throat of a deceased person. The suction and force of the device dropping onto soft tissue allowed it to break through the wind pipe, and begin drawing air (backwards) through the throat and over the vocal cords. The uncanny scream that erupted from the deceased's throat was enough to send the woman sprinting from the room, too terrified to return until the physical reaction was properly explained. All the while, due to the mechanism of the vacuum, the impossible screaming continued.


A horrifying little tale, no doubt. However, it reaffirms the absurdity of our mortal confines and allows me to thoroughly creep out friends around Halloween. I just wanted to make sure I could share it with everyone before the memory escaped me. So have fun with that, and feel free to share!



So I read Stephen King's novel about the Kennedy assassination. 

It was surprisingly good. 

Unfortunately, the enormity of the subject makes an elegant and simplified analysis difficult, if not impossible. I was 18 when the terrorist attacks occurred in New York and DC. Considering how much that shaped my world, I can't begin to fathom how such an event like the one on 11/22/63 would shatter innocence and alter lives. To my admitted dismay and shame, it made for absolutely engrossing reading and fascinating storytelling. 

Let me explain a bit. 

11/22/63 tells the story of Jake Epping, a man who is given access to a gateway to the past by an elderly friend. This friend, being not long for this Earth, has become obsessed with using this possibility as a means to divert history and save Kennedy, hopefully setting the world on a different chain of events that would undo Vietnam and spare thousands of lives as a result. Jake, fascinated by all of this, goes along with it and travels back to 1958, into a world of heavy smoking and the red scare. After some exposition and a series of trial and error establishment of rules regarding time travel, he decides to go along with the plan and sets about changing history. What follows is an engrossing adventure into the past, aided by an impressive amount of research and historical details from King. 

While I could give my typical emphatic endorsement of the book here, I'll sidestep the process to offer a few thoughts on the idea as a whole. I've certainly made my apologist stance for King's canon clear before, so instead of making a plea for you to give in to his writing, I'll simply say that it's the best he's written in years and it feels like he moved away from his wheelhouse a bit, in a good way. Give it a chance. 


I can't imagine what it would have been like to experience an event like the one in Dallas in November of 1963. I was 18 when the attacks happened and I could most likely spend the rest of my life trying to make sense of what happened. I probably will, in some ways. Such events are so massive in effect, despite their simple human beginnings, that our instinct is to force them into some sort of comprehendible, easily digested capsule of logic. This is, of course, impossible. 

For my generation, the scale of the events on September 11th will always be too large to grasp on any human scale - they are, by matter of fact, larger than one person can easily reconcile. All the more difficult it must be, then, to fathom how one lone person can be responsible for skewing the world off on to another course of events. It is of no surprise that conspiracy theories arise when we try to explain what happened in either event. To have some shadowy cabal of power players be responsible somehow seems so much more comprehensible than the reality of the actions of a few people. The events fly in the face of our understanding of how the world works. 

This being said, King's exploration of the subject is harrowing and humanizing. His exhaustive research into what (most likely) drove Lee Harvey Oswald to do what he did grants him an exhilarating yet horrifying place from which to tell a story. In some ways it's an the ultimate example of wish fulfillment - saving Kennedy is one of the classic cases cited for the potential of time travel. Who else is better suited than the long winded and exhaustive King to delve into the specifics of time travel and life in the 60s? 

I have to admit, I was almost giddy with excitement to see little scenarios play out, like rigging sports bets like in Back to the Future, or reveling in classic cars and examining knowingly outdated world views. Every time the protagonist started to risk revealing his nature or started to change the past in any way, I was on the edge of my seat, furiously flipping pages. Granted, I'm a fairly sizable nerd and time travel is some of the nerdiest stuff in fiction, but as engrossing as it may be for someone still under the age of 30 it was fantastic. I can't imagine how interesting it would be for anyone who actually experienced that time. 

I think, though, that some of the most significant lessons of the book come from the authors closing notes. In particular, a single sentence about our current state of vitriol and political fervor - "If you want to know what political extremism can lead to, look at the Zapruder film." That single, sad sentence says more about what our actions can lead to than the preceding 800 pages of human drive and desperation. One miserable, crazy person can do terrible things. It's a fascinating, scary ride to read about what makes them tick, but the moment they take action, it can't be taken back. The past won't change for us.

It would do us well to remember that.


Not Like That


Viral, viral, viral.

I've been thinking a lot about that word these last few days. Not in the sense of desperate ad men, chasing after the most recent buzz word theyve glommed onto. Side-bar: you can't arbitrarily shoot for your campaign or video 'going viral' dummy, that's the point of the concept. It happens unintentionally and without reason. Rant over. No, the viral I've been thinking about is the bad kind. The kind that makes you question every sore throat and itchy eye.

Like the Plum Island kind of viral.
I found a book. I think maybe I gave it to my father in law for a birthday. How quaint, right? A paper book! It was an exposé on the secrets and history of Lab 257 on Plum Island, out past Long Island. It has a strong whiff of conspiratorial cloak and dagger to it, but it was still a fun, gripping jaunt down the rabbit hole into a world of viruses and germ warfare I assumed only existed in Resident Evil games. If you ever read my post on the paranormal-focused podcast Mysterious Universe, you would know I have a strong inclination for the unknown and whispered about. The things that go bump in the night. Plum Island is the kind of place born of the mind of a fevered fiction writer, not the stern, sober minds of the United States Armed Forces. It's long been rumored to be home to horrifying experiments and animal testing. While the white-coats there aren't creating something for the Umbrella Corporation, they still do work with some of the deadliest pathogens known to man.

So here we are. That's a real place.

Lab 257, written and researched by Michael Christopher Carroll, is an expose that dates back to just after WWII. It's common knowledge we brought over Nazi scientists to build the rockets for our burgeoning space program. It's less commonly known that we brought over the best and most creative virologists to develop the latest thing: germs. 
This tiny little island, off the coast of New England, is home to labs that not only house some of the most deadly viri and bacteria in the world, but some of the most appallingly lax security. It used to be strong, mind you. Carroll's exhaustive history tells of elaborate and maddening levels of decontaminization coupled with strict protocol. All of this seemed to go out the window when the US Army pulled out of the facilities and handed control over to the USDA. Yes, that USDA. Whereas the Army would snipe the deer that would occasionally swim to the island (and possibly carry infected bugs off with them, because why not?) the USDA would just not deal with it. The manner in which Carroll lays out the facts and history here, you begin to see how not only Lyme's disease, but also the West Nile virus spread from the supposedly safe facilities. Also, the numerous security lapses and de-con failures are staggering. Straight up raw sewage, laden with still hot germs, was being dumped for years into what used to be fertile coast line.
Crazy stuff.

You've got to read this book. It is a page turner in the absolute best way. It's the kind of book where you come in to it with an incredulous attitude, only to find yourself flipping furiously through the pages and thinking 'No way would the government let this happen'. Yet it totally did. Read up! It's fascinating.


One More Thing

Okay, let me explain.

It is Halloween proper as I write this. Spooky Month has lived and thrived in the month of October. It's dying now, fading into the cold, dark abyss of Minnesota winter. As sad as I may be to see my favorite holiday come and go once again, it's not the end of the world. Fall here is a beautiful time; the leaves are changing. The air is crisp and clear. The first snow is beautiful. There - I said the S word. It's inevitable. Every year we have to face the undeniable return of the dreaded white stuff. Again, not the end of the world - it just feels like it. The older I've gotten, though, the more I see the beauty and natural order in it. So how does this tie in with the end of Spooky Month? Simple. I want to implore you to watch the 1982 version of The Thing.
The Thing is a classic of the horror genre, with a few unique twists that still set it apart from the modern dreck. Set in a research station on the South Pole, the movie tells a paranoia inducing tale of an alien creature that can change shape. That's really all I want to give away of a plot that's well worn and almost 30 years old. To say anymore would ruin a few good surprises. Kurt Russell stars as a burly and surly helicopter pilot who unravels the mystery in front of him, one shot of whiskey at a time. When a dog from a neighboring Norwegian research facility arrives at the station, being hunted by the last surviving Norske, things go awry and an expedition is sent out to find the facts. The venturing crew the ice. The Norwegian camp is in ashes. When they return to their outpost, Russell and co. are faced with a terrifying, inhuman force. It. Is. Amazing.
There are so many things that work well in this movie. The direction is fantastic, establishing a sense of space in a grounded, if painfully cold, place. Watching this movie almost gets me excited for winter, if that makes any semblance of sense. The cast do a superb job of recoiling in the face of indescribable monstrosities, which brings me to the crux of the movie. The monster, the titular Thing, is astounding and horrifying, even today. The practical effects are appalling in the best possible way (WARNING - NOT SAFE FOR STOMACH). Consider yourself warned - this movie is not for the faint of heart. It's nasty and ultra grotesque. In spite of, or perhaps because of the graphic and slimy gore, The Thing is an astounding watch.
I have little to no interest in seeing the recent prequel in theaters. This version, directed by John Carpenter (in his first major outing), is a perfect stand-alone horror movie. The story is told so fantastically well, the beats so well spaced and timed, the plot so deftly woven, that seeing explicitly what happens before it is simply not necessary. The chaos in the Norwegian camp was so perfectly established in this version that I just don't see the point in revisiting it to tell their story. Maybe I'm wrong here, but I just feel Carpenter's version is such a great, singular thing that it doesn't need expansion.
So there you have it. One last gasp of Spooky Month to see you through to next year. Get ready for the impending winter with a horrifying, paranoid tale of isolation and mistrust. It'll keep your mind free of cabin fever for the next season. Or maybe not. Maybe you'll just get more suspicious of your companions. Either way, enjoy The Thing. Lights off, as always.


Where We've Been

Evening, gang.

If you're reading this, it's most likely Halloween where you are. I dig. I hope you're having as mega of a day as I am. I spent the previous day recapping the Saturday night hijinks, packing some boxes while watching spooky movies and opening a bottle of Cabernet to enjoy another Treehouse of Horror. Not bad, I have to say. My apartment has no kids, so no trick or treaters for me, to my dismay. I would have fun passing out candy. I would have fun with wine until I pass out, too, but that's not really a Halloween thing. I digress. This year I was a bull, my better half was a matador. Here's me:
Nice, right? Best of all - pretty darn cheap. Total cost? Five bones for the horns. All else was mine. Okay the leg warmers on my arms as hooves were courtesy of my better half. 

So I've written up and down about Spooky Month. I loved it. It gave me a chance to indulge in my spooky side and share some awesome Halloweenish things with the wider world. There are, however, some things that slipped through the cracks. These are the posts I wrote prior to Spooky Month that would have been totally appropriate to cut and paste if I had been short on time and creativity. In no particular order, you should check out:

The Thing and I - a genuinely creepy Treehouse of Horror installment, all set at night in a storm.
Silent Hill 2 - the most terrifying game I've ever played. An emotional trip, to say the least. HD collections for PS3 and 360 due out in January.
Cloverfield - A modern Gojira, my favorite monster movie. It's a crazy post-modern take on terrorist events.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors - An underrated gem for the SNes. A love letter to B Movie madness.
Crimson - Beautifully dark album from the Alkaline Trio. Lush and pulsing punk music to set the mood.
MST3K - The best way to enjoy old B Movies. Snark galore. Laughs abound. Legendary.
Old Boy - Not a horror movie, per se. Still a dark, twisted trip to the most tormented depths of humanity. Yeah.
Silent Hill - My love for a flawed, but well-intentioned cinematic adaptation of the video game series.
You Were Always On My Mind - Getting severely caught off guard by a creepy soundtrack.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies - A forgotten gem from Rare. Super fun and full of simple frights!
Maniac Mansion - One of the first great haunted house games. Packed with point-and-click antics.
House of Leaves - Watch a book eat itself like a snake swallowing its own tail.
World War Z - The definitive record of humanity's war on zombie-kind. A sprawling, epic tome.
I Hear You Calling - A great video by the band Gob with homages to Thriller.
So that about sums it up. It's been a month of scares and jumps, noises in the vents and things lurking around the corner. Hit up the Spooky label on the side bar for more goodness. Otherwise, come November 1st it's back to business as usual here. I've had a blast this past month. Hopefully you have too. I'll try to do more large scale themes in the future. Christmas Conundrum, perhaps?


Many Returns

Yo! Spooky Month is heading to a party.

I'm guessing you're going out tonight. If you're like me and work the traditional 40 hour, Monday to Friday week, this is your Halloween night out. Maybe not - maybe you don't wanna deal with the drunks and crowds. I hear you. Personally, I'm avoiding any bars this year, a major plus. Going to a party at a friend's house. Much more relaxed but still super fun and a social outing for a change. But maybe that's not your bag. Maybe you're somewhere in the middle, wanting to stay in a watch a movie, but not a lights off, creeper kind of movie. May I suggest the movie that got me fascinated with the undead in the first place? I submit for your consideration - Return of the Living Dead.
I caught this movie on cable back in the mid 90s without any context. Being young and naive, I thought (mistakenly, I later found out) that this insane movie was supposed to be taken at face value as a horror movie. Only when I watched it as an adult did it click with me - Return of the Living Dead is a comedy zombie movie. A Zom Com, if you want to be obnoxious. Still, there are some really messed up moments from this movie - the Tar Man in the basement. The horde of rain soaked, decomposing zombies rushing the ambulance in the dark. The torso that explains through delirious revelations that zombies eat the brains of the living to ease the pain of being dead. In fact, this little known horror comedy is almost single handedly responsible for establishing that notion in wider culture. 
It's not without its detractors, though. It has no connection with the much more revered, Romero-based continuity of Night of, Dawn of and Day of the Dead. John Russo, one of the producers who worked with Romero on the original Night of the Living Dead, held the rights to the titles, and thus established his own continuity with this vein of movies. It's more crass, vulgar and exploitative. It's more of a raucous, rollicking kind of movie in comparison to Romero's terrifying and academic canon. In Return's established universe, the original Night was a cover-by the government after a supposed real life incident in which an army chemical (fictional Trioxin) reanimated the dead. A group of young punks get caught up in the madness when one of their friends, who works at a mortuary, exposes a large quantity of the stuff to the outside world. 
Look, let's be honest here. Return's never gonna win any prestigious awards. It had a surprisingly decent reception and box office performance when it was released. What it will do is take you on an insane ride of splatter-stick comedy and gore. It's violent and over the top, but in an absolutely intentional manner. You want to spice up your night if you're staying in? Give Return of the Living Dead a shot - there is no other movie quite like it, I gurantee it.


Scary Business

Evening, one and all.

It's been a long week for me. One that finds me here, having a cocktail and waxing nostalgic about movies from 15 years ago. I'm glad it's over - Halloween is almost here! So in the interest of Spooky Month, I've been racking my brain, trying to summon the unsung, the things that deserve another day in the sun. Even if the sunlight kills them. Today, it dawned on me - a movie that is surprisingly enjoyable and criminally underrated. Do you guys remember The Frighteners?
In some ways, it's amazing this movie is as unappreciated as it is. First off, it was directed by Peter Jackson. Yes, that Peter Jackson. As a result, it was filmed in New Zealand, which gives a very distinct look to the film - it's a little Beetlejuice-esque in some of its more zany moments, but with gorgeous landscapes and vistas. You want more notoriety? Sure - how about the last major theatrical role by everyone's favorite, Michael J. Fox? We all adored him at his peak, but how many of us saw this hidden gem when it was released? Not I, sadly. Debuting in 1996, I recall seeing the trailers and thinking it looked pretty rad, if a bit off. The kind of movie that seemed too good to be true. Allow me to explain.
The Frighteners is a movie that is, in a way, the flip-side to The Ghostbusters. Fox plays an architect named Frank Bannister (puns!) who loses his wife in a mysterious car accident. Through a series of conveniently obtuse events, he gains the ability to see and commune with the dead. This ability, coupled with a small town's gossip about the mysterious death of his wife, lead him to a career stall-out. He begins to use a few ghost friends to con his fellow townsfolk with staged hauntings and fake poltergeists. It's more than a little over the top, if just a little bit bad ass. His convenient little scheme goes awry, though, when a massive black-robed...thing...begins killing people around him, setting Bannister up as the culprit. These events manage to tie back into a reclusive neighbor and the legend surrounding a long dead serial killer. Needless to say, it gets worse. A lot worse. 
If you have any interest in Spooky Month, you have to see this movie - it's an underrated gem of the horror-comedy genre. Fox is superb as the tortured but good natured con man. His undead friends, one of whom is Chi McBride, are awesomely ghoulish, playing their strange roles with aplomb. Sean Astin's father John gives one last amazing performance. Jake Busey delivers an insane performance as Starkweather, the less of whom I say, the better. It's a surprisingly strong film for a little-known mid-90s horror-comedy. Also of note - it bears more than a passing similarity to Silent Hill 4. Both center around similar antagonists and horrible things that strike from within the walls. 
I have to say, if you've never seen The Frighteners, you're missing out. It's one of Fox's great unsung roles. He has this wonderful anxiety through his whole performance that makes him so energetic and endearing, despite the trouble he causes. It's both freaky and deeky, full of laughs and gore, dancing the line in a superb manner. Check it out before Halloween hits!


Dawn of An Era

I promised myself it wouldn't come to this. 

For Movie Week during the last leg of Spooky Month, I initially thought I would do a whole week of zombie movies. While there was definitely enough fodder to give life to such an indulgent idea, I thought it would be better to cover a broader theme of horror movies than strictly the zombie sub-genre. Well, nuts to that. I'm not saying it's all Romero from here on out, I'm just saying the original 1978 version of Dawn of the Dead is sublime. 

Expanding on the premise posited in the initial Living Dead installment, Dawn of the Dead is everything a sequel ought to be. Well, it's not technically a sequel. None of the characters return, nor do the locales. Instead, it's a movie set in the same universe, the same fictional disaster as the first and following installments. Whereas Night was a claustrophobic, isolated film that ran on anxiety, Dawn is huge and sprawling, working in the notion of growing dread. It's a movie that takes the same scope from the first and opens it up. As Romero pulls the camera back we get a sense of the devastation on a wider scale. We see a clearer take on his examination of modern living as viewed through the lens of horrendous circumstances. His allegories are broader, yet more clearly delivered. The action is more spread out, as are the beats of the story. So what gives? 
Dawn of the Dead, famously filmed in 1977 Monroeville, tells the tale of four survivors as they escape the crumbling of society by seeking shelter in a shopping mall. While that sums up the plot, it's much too brief to encapsulate what happens. The movie opens on a frantic television studio, broadcasting in the last day's of humankind holding their collective crap together. Chaos begins to take over the studio. No one is in control. The government is at a loss (or has pulled back, in a pre-Redeker plan sort of way). No official word will tell anyone what to do, other than to shoot for the head. The dead are coming back to life and attacking the living, and order is breaking down on a massive level. We see a SWAT team enduring a standoff with people in a brownstone who won't obey the imposed curfew and who are also harboring their deceased relatives in the basement. A botched assault occurs and innocent people are killed. Stuff's just going wrong all over, basically. So a plucky group of people (smartly fending for themselves) pilot a stolen news chopper away from the city. After a near-fatal refueling pit stop, the band of survivors find refuge in the newest pantheon of American excess, the shopping mall. After a fantastic series of coordinated operations, they barricade the entrances and clear the mall of remaining zombies...and with that, they're trapped. 
That's what we all forget about the novelty of Dawn of the Dead - seeking shelter in a mall is great until you realize it's just a fancy prison filled with stuff. The four protagonists initially seek material thrills with their surroundings but quickly become disillusioned with the reality of their situation. A pallor falls over them as they attempt to settle in to their new lives as the last people in their own little world, but it only gets worse. I won't give away the end of a 30 year old movie, but suffice to say - it gets worse. It's Romero, so take a wild guess. But needless to say, our own inability to work together is always our own downfall, movie or not. 
The sad thing about all of this is that I shouldn't even have to tell you any of this. Dawn of the Dead wasn't just popular right out of the gate - it's become a legend in the horror field, and the alpha and omega of zombie movies. It's permeated our culture to the point that you don't even realize it until you dig it up. Countless musicians have sampled the iconic soundtrack and score, and even more have sampled audio and bits of dialogue. Entire movies have been inspired just from this film. Without Dawn of the Dead there would be no Walking Dead. Crazy amounts of video games have found inspiration from it, from Resident Evil to Dead Rising. It's become an institution of the zombie genre and is regularly included on lists of the greatest films ever made. The pacing might be a bit sluggish at times, but it's a movie that is so well crafted that a simple premise feels massive and organically hewn. The characters, while not Shakespearean, are natural and believable, enduring the end of the world and struggling to cope in any way they can. Tom Savini's effects are unparalleled, even to this day. I showed a friend of mine this movie and even though he's a horror buff (and I'd seen it several times) we both still winced at some of the more brutal encounters. That's saying something for a movie that's over 30 years old. 
So why do I preach about a movie that seems to get all the respect it deserves? Because it's just that good. I know it has deservingly received accolades for the its quality and longevity, but it still deserves more adoration. While the recent remake was close, it just doesn't hold a candle to the original. Dawn of the Dead is a masterpiece, the very definition of what a zombie movie should be. You don't want to slum it with slasher flicks this Halloween? Look no further. 


Bleak Projections

Spooky Month is about to get real, folks.

A movie like The Blair Witch Project could still scare you in the days before Google, Youtube and omnipresent irony. I remember reading bits and pieces about a supposed found-film piece of cinema that ended poorly. Being from a small town with barely functioning internet access, I only knew the essentials - college kids go wandering off in the woods, something bad finds them, they don't make it back. Only thing was, this time it wasn't so safe and fictional. The kids had been reported lost for quite some time. Their home made, hand-held shot movie was rumored to be melting faces and stopping hearts in art-house cinemas all over the country. I was totally intrigued. Then the cat got out of the bag.
The Blair Witch Project has become something of a punchline or shorthand for a common understanding of DIY aesthetic. That's really being too dismissive of a revolutionary thing, though. The truth of the matter is, even knowing that this movie was (spoilers, you dummy) a work of ingenious fiction, it was still damn scary. That seems to be the big secret that no one wants to acknowledge. We're all too cool and jaded and self-aware to be genuinely unnerved or swindled by any kind of momentum or legitimate feeling of connection. Instead we dismiss and say "Oh, that thing? Yeah, what a lame fake movie, right? Who ever bought into it?" Well, I totally did.
I only saw the bleak, doomed cinema verite affair after the fact. The summer it saw wide release was one full of movies you had to see as a teenager - South Park, The Sixth Sense, I think there was an American Pie in there, too. Maybe not. Sometimes those years blend together a bit. Anyway, the movie came and went in the theaters and I still hadn't seen it. So our local Blockbuster (back when that was a thing) had it on sale in the bargain bin (cat being out of the bag) I picked it up for less than five bones. I took the VHS (yeah, I know) home to my parent's new home in the woods, where I watched it all alone on a Sunday night, lights off, house lights outside reflecting off of the bare tree limbs of late October. I got my business thoroughly freaked out.
It may not be the coolest, most bad-ass thing to say, but I'll stand behind this weird little indie horror flick. It has this air of doom and despair permeating it. You knew going into it that the three plucky teenagers (no matter how obnoxious they could be) weren't going to come home. Something unseen was stalking them, to great affect for a solitary audience. The only way it could have gotten scarier for me was if I had to go orienteering alone in the woods that night. The manner in which the 'show-don't-tell' philosophy is employed here puts it in the same realm as Alien or Jaws. We are so much more terrified by the imagined, unperceived threat than a CGI money shot. Noises in the night stop the blood cold. Snarling beasts leaping at the screen, not so much. The cold air of fall and the empty trees create an unmistakable ambiance, the likes of which I haven't seen in any other horror flick since. 
The Blair Witch Project brought us one step farther into our modern age of in-media-res production and (ugh) "reality" TV. That's the unfortunate legacy of a game changer. This movie was a refreshing novelty, one that deserves a better reputation than we've bestowed it. Turn the lights off and pick a quiet, solitary night. Watch this ground-breaking found-footage horror movie and tell me you're not the least bit affected by it. I'll be waiting in the heart of the metropolitan area with the lights on, far from the woods.